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Review: The Half of It (12)

Written by Film

Alice Wu’s new Netflix rom-com drama puts a queer teenage spin on the Cyrano formula of complicated love triangles. The Cyrano formula revolves around the notion of a protagonist who helps their contender to win the love of the latter’s romantic interest. The dilemmas arise when the protagonist falls in love with the aforementioned love interest.

Although The Half of It is not Netflix’s first attempt at coming-of-age love story, which should feel monotonous by now but instead the film feels like a breeze of fresh air. Wu’s take on a queer story about love depicts a multifaceted account which works courtesy to a sense of realism in its characters and narrative progression. With an air of believability and a great ensemble cast, the film makes itself stand out in a long line of cliché flicks. 

Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is a Chinese-American high school student living a routine life in the small town of Squahamish with her father, who works as a station master. Apart from helping him on a day-to-day basis, she is an A+ student who writes essays for most of her classmates for money. Chu is a simple, quiet girl who goes by remaining unacknowledged and occupies a background position in the world around her. Chu is chased by an inarticulate but kind-hearted jock Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), who has a crush on Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), the popular and pretty but modest girl of the school. Munsky asks Chu to write a letter from him to Flores to impress her. The supposed one letter turns into one in the line of many, through which the feelings and lives of Chu, Munsky and Flores get entangled in a complex web of friendship, love and self-discovery as they get to know each other. 

The film, instead of centring upon cliché love-tropes, celebrates sincere friendship with happy, intricate and heartbreaking moments.

The film works because it inculcates within itself a multitude of topics, often central to the lives of real people in real-time. Through Chu and her father, the film addresses the concerns raised in the livelihoods of migrant communities in America or broadly, English-speaking countries. Just like Chu’s father, who never got an Engineering job despite having a PhD, the film explores linguistic and racial politics which become a roadblock in the lives of numerous migrant inhabitants all over the world and especially, people of colour. Furthermore, through Chu and Flores, the film further portrays how LGBTQ+ stories can assume a quality beyond the trope of coming out and, discuss how defining and accepting one’s sexual identity is a more elaborate and complex process than otherwise represented. Additionally, the film instead of centring upon the cliché love-trope celebrates sincere friendship with happy, intricate and heartbreaking moments. Narratively, the film outlines its love for Greek philosophies by examining the idea of soulmates and exploring love in its various forms of eros (romantic love), storge (familial love), philia (platonic love) and philautia (self-love). 

The brilliance direction of Wu triumphs throughout the film because it inculcates a multitude of fragments within its narrative whole, keeping the story reliable and genuine. Moreover, the film gives equal story space to its every piece, never compromising one over another. Leah Lewis (The Good Doctor, Nancy Drew) is the heart of the film, embodying the plain, vulnerable and tender aspect of a teenage girl who remains steadfast in every situation and takes care of everyone around her. Daniel Diemer (The Man in High Castle, Sacred Lies) personifies the innocence of friendships, which accept someone as they are and for who they are, even if that means being loved differently than expected. The authenticity of the actors shines in their portrayal of visibly complex characters but moreover, it is their chemistry with each other which enthrals the audience. Overall, with its sincerity and warmth, the film embraces a subtle progressive attitude by representing a coming-of-age queer story with its rightful twists and turns.  

Rating: 4/5

Last modified: 3rd June 2020

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